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Dean's Medalists honored in liberal arts and sciences

Dean's Medals honor the best and brightest in liberal arts and sciences
December 18, 2012

Honored by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for their academic achievements, Dean’s Medals will adorn 18 of the 1,471 ASU seniors graduating with degrees in natural sciences, humanities and social sciences this winter.

The medal was created by Robert E. Page, Jr., university vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to recognize the top graduating student from each of the academic units and programs in the college.

The college’s best and brightest include ASU seniors Tamara Lee, Camila Sharman, Rebecca Hoffman, Dan Quach, Danielle Harry, Rozela Melgoza, Sambhavna Suwalka, Joseph Ybarra, Dawn Fortuna, Michael Piscopo, Danielle Johnson, Rachel Zubiate, Dipesh Solanky, Tho Nguyen Xuan, Thomas Brougher, Echo Love, Thuynga Barr, and Hannah Sanchez. 

“This year’s medalists are extraordinary. They’ve won awards for their discovery in math and sciences and revitalized understanding of our history and ourselves,” said dean Page, who is also a Foundation Professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences. “I congratulate them. Their contributions to our community and to social sciences, science and humanities globally will no doubt translate into outcomes that will touch us all.”
The medalists come from a diverse array of backgrounds, from a U.S. Marine Corps combat instructor and a student whose ASU creative writing journey started at age 16 to an urban planner with a flair for mentoring. Each medalist will carry their academic unit’s banner in the college’s convocation ceremony on Dec. 21.

The Fortuna family celebrates doubly this year. Dean’s Medalist Dawn Fortuna will receive her degree in urban planning from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, while her daughter Kimberly will take a degree in mathematics. Fortuna returned to college after a 15-year hiatus, during which she built a successful career managing public works and resident development projects for engineering and design firms. She excelled at ASU, while also working full time and serving as a director of the City of Mesa Transportation Advisory Board and as a member of the American Planning Association-Arizona Chapter. She is known for her “passion for mentoring,” said David Boggs, Executive Director of Valley Metro. Fortuna supports young professionals through the Women’s Transportation Network mentoring program. Professor Kevin McHugh adds, “It is rewarding to see people return to university education, excel and help others enroute as Dawn has done.”

Receiving concurrent degrees in history and political science, Michael Piscopo was chosen as representative of the college because of his dedication, scholarship and research excellence. Said Volker Benkert, a professor in ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies: “It is not often that I have the pleasure of advising a student of this caliber.” Piscopo has received the Wallace E. Adams Memorial Award for Excellence in European History, the Alumni Award for Excellence in History Undergraduate Studies-Graduating Senior, and the Sun Angel Excellence in the Humanities Research Award. His Barrett, The Honors College thesis casts new light on German and Japanese post-World War II messaging in film. 

Medalist Rachel Zubiate speaks six languages, including Old English. In the School of International Letters and Cultures, she translated her unique talent into a career path. A Melikian Scholar in 2011 and 2012, she studied in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia and Kyiv, Ukraine. Her research has included examining the cultural similarities between Russian, Chinese, French and Mexican fairy tales and analyzing the foreign language translations of Disney songs. She was a tutor for ASU students in Russian and Spanish, and received ASU’s Dmitrii Krioukov Memorial Translation Award in 2012. Her thesis work for Barrett, The Honors College, “Children’s Literature in Russia and America: A Study in Translation,” involved translating children’s books and fairy tales, and testing that translation – from English to Russian, and Russian to English – in a second-grade classroom.

Two Dean’s Medalists pursued undergraduate research with the Biodesign Institute. The first, Camila Sharman, will receive her degree in biochemistry with a concentration in medicinal chemistry from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. A Barrett honors student, she studied with professor Josh LaBaer’s in Biodesign’s Center for Personalized Medicine, in addition to serving as a chemistry teaching assistant, a mentor for the Obama Scholars Program and instructor with 7th-grade science students at Kino Junior High School. The second student-researcher, Dipesh Solanky, participated in the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research Program (SOLUR), completing his Barrett honors thesis studies at the Biodesign Institute. Solanky excelled as an experimentalist, developing his own hypothesis-based series of experiments to study antibacterial clay minerals. His results were published in the Journal of Microbiological Methods.

“Dipesh exemplifies a student deserving of the CLAS Dean’s Medal,”  said Shelley Haydel, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences and researcher the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at the Biodesign Institute. “I cannot think of any current undergraduate student that I would recommend more highly. He truly is an exceptional student and scientist and most deserving of this prestigious award. His ability to think analytically, problem solve, and troubleshoot will certainly allow him to succeed in any field of science and medicine that he pursues. He will represent ASU very well as he embarks on what I imagine will be a highly successful career. I would certainly welcome having Dipesh as a peer and colleague or as my own physician in the future.”